2021: BARC India's tryst with challenges continued
The TRP scam, which came to light in 2020, troubled the TV audience measurement body in 2021 as well
After a controversial 2020, TV audience measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India continued to grapple with challenges and controversies in 2021. The TRP scam which came to light in 2020 continued to play havoc in much of 2021 with WhatsApp conversation between Republic TV founder and editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and former BARC India CEO Partho Dasgupta coming out in the public domain. The leaked conversation raised a lot of uncomfortable questions about the functioning of BARC India when the latter was at the helm of its affairs. Dasgupta, who was arrested in December 2020 for his alleged role in the TRP manipulation case, was granted bail by the Bombay High Court in March.
Another headline-grabbing event from BARC India was the departure of media veteran Sunil Lulla as the CEO. Lulla, who replaced Dasgupta in October 2019, made a quiet exit in less than two years. He was eventually replaced by advertising industry veteran Nakul Chopra, who had earlier served as the chairman of the BARC India Board in 2018-19. Lulla's exit and Chopra's entry came at a time when BARC India's credibility remained under question.
Further, the issue of resuming TV news ratings remained unresolved amid differences between Rajat Sharma-led News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) and Arnab Goswami-led News Broadcasters Federation (NBF). The news rating blackout began in October 2020 after the Mumbai Police unearthed the TRP scam. Information & Broadcasting (I&B) minister Anurag Thakur, who took charge in July 2021, recently stated that the news ratings will resume after the implementation of the recommendations of the four-member committee report on the review of TV rating guidelines.
The committee headed by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati submitted its report on January 12, 2021. In its report titled 'Guidelines on TV Rating Agencies in India', the committee has recommended specific measures to bring independent oversight to BARC India, mandate the use of return-path data (RPD), increase competitiveness in the TV rating space, and put in place a specialised regulatory mechanism for the same. The ministry has also sought views of industry bodies like Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), NBDA, and NBF on the report.
The Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in its 27th report on ‘Ethical Standards in Media Coverage’ came down heavily on the existing TV viewership measurement system under BARC India by noting that it is heavily biased towards urban areas. It also asked the MIB to make the system more transparent by giving equal weightage to urban and rural areas.
The committee also said that it is not satisfied with the present system of measuring TRP. It also drew the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s (MIB) attention to the recently reported episodes of TRP manipulation by some TV channels. "This has put a big question mark on the objectivity, accuracy, efficacy, and transparency of the current system and indicates how the ratings can be manipulated by some channels in connivance with BARC officials," the report noted.
BARC India's Code of Conduct for Redressing Viewership Malpractices came into effect on 11th January 2021. The objective of the Code of Conduct is to prohibit, discourage, prevent and eliminate malpractices related to and resulting in tampering with the ratings by influencing /or attempted influence of the panel households.
In June, the audience measurement body changed the format of publishing viewership data which was publicly available on its website. In a surprise move, the measurement body stopped publishing genre-wise data for non-subscribers. Further, it only publishes viewership data for the top 10 channels on an all-India basis besides the Top 5 channels in each state. According to experts, the state-wise data lacks any utility and context as TV channels are judged based on their performance vis-à-vis other channels in the genre in which they operate.
BARC India along with the BARC Technical Committee (TechComm), announced the release of the ‘TV Universe Estimates 2020’ (TV UEs) that play an important role in the structuring of BARC India’s sample design and in ensuring the selected panel represents a true microcosm of India.
According to BARC India’s TV UEs 2020, the number of TV households grew by 7% to 210 million from 197 million in 2018. Simultaneously, TV viewing individuals also increased by 6.7% to reach 892 million from 836 million in 2018, an increase of 57 million individuals in 2020. Another interesting trend was the 7% growth in TV Owning Female population while the male population grew by 6%. In terms of age groups, the highest growth was witnessed in the “kids” category (age 2 to 14) at 9%.
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